– Beginnings Oak Park
By Ken Pugh
The Park, then only a third of its current size, was given to the Kings Norton & Northfield Urban District Council (KN&N UDC) by the Gibbins family in February 1899. There was a proposal to name the
Park “ ”, but the donors requested that its name not include theirs. So, it was called “Selly Oak Gibbins Park Park”, and Old Lane was renamed Gibbins Road in recognition of the gift.
Early in the year Josiah Horton was appointed Park-keeper, on a weekly wage of 24/-, with coat, cap and residence at the Lodge.
The Park-keeper, Josiah Thomas Horton (1863 – 1940)
From Horton family records
The formal opening of the Park occurred at 3pm on Easter Monday, 3rd April 1899. Thousands gathered in festive mood to see the 88 year old Mrs Gibbins open the gates with a silver key and listen to speeches by the donors and local dignitaries. Entertainments followed the opening ceremony. There was early demand for use of the Park. Five major uses in this first year (1899) were:
i) The (Oddfellows and Foresters) Amalgamated Juvenile Fete on 3rd June;
ii) The annual Selly Oak and Bournbrook Children’s Fete on 3rd July;
iii) The annual Selly Oak Horticultural Show on 5th August;
iv) The Order of Rechabites for an unspecified event on 19th August; and
v) Sports, on 26th August, staged by and for the Selly Oak Victoria Brass Band.
The band had given a programme of music on Wednesday evenings during June, July and August.
According to detailed press reports all the events, except one, were very successful and well subscribed, often thousands attending. It was a very eventful first year in the life of the Park. It was the Urban District Council’s first park; and, whilst they were on a learning curve, it became a model and base for their subsequent parks and recreation grounds.
During the first decade there was great busyness around the park. Policing was arranged. Drainage was attended to. Maintenance programmes were introduced. A propagating frame and a small greenhouse were built. Plant stocks were generated. More trees were added. Drives were asphalted. Swings, gymnastic equipment, a giant stride, a see-saw, and park seats were provided. By 1908 a bandstand and 16 dozen chairs was installed. Football pitches, cricket pitches, tennis courts and bowling greens were laid out. Early in 1906 the Park was reported to be in very good order; and in that autumn the flower beds were described as “looking exceedingly well”.
Events in the Park were frequent and regular. Year on year the Selly Oak Victoria Brass Band gave Wednesday evening concerts during June, July and August, often on Saturday as well. The Children’s Fete, or Festival as it was later called, was a summer fixture, and was so popular that eventually as many as 5,000 children paraded to the Park where they were entertained to tea al fresco, and enjoyed games and races, Maypole dances, Punch & Judy shows, and free rides on the steam horses and roundabouts, before being sent home at dusk with a free bun. Parents were allowed to join the throng in the evening and as many as 10,000 were reported to be in the park. The Park was popular, organised event or not. The Park-keeper estimated between 10,000 and 12,000 people (i.e. half the then population of the district) used the Park on Whit Monday in 1900. Coronation festivities, including bonfires, occurred in the Park, in 1902 for King Edward VII, and 1911 for George V. Clearly the Park was well used, busy, popular and a boon to the local community. A gift indeed.